No Rage Against the Machines: Threat of Automation Does Not Change Policy Preferences

76 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2019

See all articles by Baobao Zhang

Baobao Zhang

University of Oxford - Center for the Governance of AI; Department of Political Science, MIT; Yale University, Department of Political Science

Date Written: September 16, 2019


Labor-saving technology has already decreased employment opportunities for middle-skill workers. Experts anticipate that advances in AI and robotics will cause even more significant disruptions in the labor market over the next two decades. This paper presents three experimental studies that investigate how this profound economic change could affect mass politics. Recent observational studies suggest that workers’ exposure to automation risk predicts their support not only for redistribution but also for right-wing populist policies and candidates. Other observational studies, including my own, find that workers underestimate the impact of automation on their job security. Misdirected blame towards immigrants and workers in foreign countries, rather than concerns about workplace automation, could be driving support for right-wing populism. To correct American workers’ beliefs about the threats to their jobs, I conducted three survey experiments in which I informed workers about the existent and future impact of workplace automation. While these informational treatments convinced workers that automation threatens American jobs, they failed to change respondents’ preferences on welfare, immigration, and trade policies. My research finds that raising awareness about workplace automation did not decrease opposition to globalization or increase support for policies that will prepare workers for future technological disruptions.

Keywords: automation, future of work, right-wing populism, public opinion, political economy

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Baobao and Zhang, Baobao, No Rage Against the Machines: Threat of Automation Does Not Change Policy Preferences (September 16, 2019). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2019-25, Available at SSRN: or

Baobao Zhang (Contact Author)

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